Putting the beds to bed at Washington Park

Volunteers tuck in the park's flower beds for winter

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First, they pulled out the dead and dying annuals that wouldn’t grow back next year. Then they scooped up shovelfuls of dirt, flipping and turning it to aerate and loosen the soil. Then they covered the barren plots with tarps. And, in no time at all, thanks to the army of volunteers, the flower beds at Wash Park were ready for winter.

“We couldn’t do it without these volunteers,” said Tom Martinez, one of the gardeners overseeing the annual “Put the Beds to Bed” operation that ensures the flowerbeds are ready for planting come spring. He has worked with the city for 20 years, 11 of them at Washington Park.

Composed of teams from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and members of the community, about 100 volunteers gathered Oct. 20 to follow the directions of staff from Denver Parks and Recreation District in winterizing the flowerbeds. The city’s other parks, such as City Park and Civic Center Park, also have volunteer events to turn over the flower beds.

“Put the Beds to Bed” started more than 20 years ago, said Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of parks and planning.

“As long as our parks department has been around, people have been volunteering in our parks,” Gilmore said. The department is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Gilmore estimated that the Parks and Recreation office saves $1 million a year on these kinds of operations by using volunteers.

Volunteers began arriving at 8:30 a.m., helping themselves to coffee, orange juice and bagels provided by Parks and Recreation. Once everything was in place, the gardeners overseeing the operation reviewed safety tips and tasks.

Thirty minutes after volunteers were set loose, one of the AmeriCorps NCCC teams had completed its part.

“AmeriCorps is awesome,” Martinez said.

While ripping out plants may seem like a waste, Parks and Recreation is only removing the annual plants that die off during the winter and don’t rejuvenate each year.

“A lot of these beds, when we go out and clear them, are barren,” said Tina Myers, volunteer program administrator.

The dead plants are composted and used in the future to help new flowers grow. Composting is only part of the district’s focus on sustainability, however. Several of the park’s flowerbeds host perennials that come back year after year when the snow melts. By planting these in some of the flowerbeds, the park retains some sense of structure, and the gardeners don’t have to grow as many plants from seeds for next year.

The district is already hard at work on next year’s flower bed designs, but those designs remain a secret until May when staff and volunteers will plant the flowerbeds again. In the past, Gilmore said, their gardeners have used shapes from nature, such as sunbursts and moons, as well as Denver’s city flag.

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